LEADERSHIP AND UNILATERALISM
Donald Sensing has a thoughtful piece explaining his “deep unease over the possibility that retired Gen. NATO Wesley Clark is a potential president of the United States.” The essay focuses on Clark’s strange assertion that, “You can’t win without a vision, and that means working with allies.” Donald does an excellent job rebutting this assertion, citing the leadership of Black Jack Pershing in World War One.
Strangely, I heard rhetoric much like Clark’s throughout the American Political Science Association convention this past week. The argument is that, if a cause is worth going to war over, then, surely, an American president ought to be able to persuade the good people of the United Nations to go along with us. While it sounds reasonable on its surface, this view misses the rather fundamental point that The World’s Sole Remaining SuperpowerTM sometimes has different interests than other states. Many times, the world demands that the U.S. show “leadership” in areas where we have virtually no interest, as in the many conflicts that erupted in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Other times, we are rebuffed when we try to lead in places where others have conflicting interests, as in Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, etc. Leadership in complicated scenarios becomes even more difficult because 1) states can free ride, getting the benefits of risks undertaken by the U.S. but without the costs; 2) states, especially former great powers now relegated to relative helplessness, have a natural inclination to counterbalance U.S. power.
In the case of the Iraq War, it is conceivable that the U.S. will be proven wrong in its policies. If we fail to undercover substantial evidence of WMD production, it will be quite difficult to convince many opponents that the war was the right thing to do. If, five years or so from now, Iraq is governed by an unstable regime–or still governed by the U.S. led coalition–it would surely be viewed as a failure by almost anyone. But it falls to the leadership of TWSRSPTM to make these difficult choices and bear the responsibility for success or failure. Historians still blame the U.S. for its lack of leadership in the periods leading up to the two World Wars, and our relative power was far less then than now.